There are many common myths about sexual violence, especially in relation to gender. Although all genders can experience sexual violence, sexual assault is considered gender-based violence–defined as violence that is committed against someone based on their gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender–because the vast majority of incidents are committed by men against women. According to Statistics Canada (2014), 94% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by men and 87% of those assaults are committed against women and girls.
Despite these statistics, there are many common gendered myths about sexual violence that we will dispel here.
Myth: “Women lie about sexual violence when they regret having sex or want to get revenge.”
Fact: Most people tell the truth about sexual violence. Only 2-4% are false reports, which is similar to other crimes. Most people do not want to report sexual violence. In fact, only 6% of sexual assaults (and only 1-2% of date rapes) in Canada are ever reported to the police.
Myth: “Most incidents of sexual violence is committed by strangers in dark, secluded places.”
Fact: Most (73%) of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. Most (80%) occur in someone’s home or residence.
Myth: “Men who commit sexual violence have usually made an honest mistake about consent.”
Fact: Most perpetrators commit multiple incidents of sexual violence and target their victims. In fact, 75% of sexual assaults involve some planning in advance. Most perpetrators engage in multiple forms of sexual violence, from sexual harassments to inappropriate jokes.
Myth: “Being accused of sexual violence will ruin a man’s reputation.”
Fact: Only 1-2% of sexual assault cases make it to trial and only 0.3% of perpetrators are found guilty. Unfortunately, many people in society, often including those involved in the judicial system, continue to blame the victims.
Myth: “Women who want to avoid sexual violence should dress properly and should not get too drunk at parties.”
Fact: How a person dresses does not affect their chances of experiencing sexual violence. The only way to stop sexual violence is for perpetrators to stop committing sexual violence. And while intoxicated women may be targeted by perpetrators, the responsibility to stop sexual violence should not be put on women’s shoulders alone. As a community, we are responsible for each other’s safety.
Myth: “Sexual violence happens when men cannot control their urges. It happens because of sexual attraction.”
Fact: Sexual violence is a crime of power and violence. It happens when one person focuses on their own needs and desires and completely ignores or disregards the needs and desires of the other person. Saying that men “can’t control themselves” is insulting to most men, who do not commit sexual violence.
Myth: “Men have the right to sex if they have paid for drinks, if the other person is their girlfriend/wife, or if they have be ‘led on.’”
Fact: No one has a right to sex when the other person has not consented.
Myth: “If the person didn’t say ‘no,’ fight back, or scream for help, it was not sexual violence.”
Fact: Research in psychology has shown that while some people may be able to confidently assert their boundaries, others may freeze up due to fear or triggering and may not be able to say anything. Consent must be enthusiastic, clear, and present at each stage of intimacy. More information about how our nervous system responds to trauma (“fight, flight, freeze”) can be found here.
Myth: “A person who experiences sexual violence will be emotionally distraught and crying.”
Fact: There are many different ways that a person might react to sexual violence. No two people’s experiences are the same. Some may be emotional. Others may cope by becoming emotionally numb and, therefore, look “fine” to an outside observer. Others may be very angry and act with aggression. And others may cope by laughing when it seems inappropriate to laugh. These are all normal responses to trauma and do not indicate the severity of the assault.
Myth: “The most common date rape drugs are ‘roofies.’”
Fact: The most common date rape drug is alcohol. Drugs like Rohypnol or “roofies” are also commonly used.
Myth: “Sexual violence does not happen in same-sex relationships.”
Fact: Statistics indicate that sexual violence happens as frequently in same-sex relationships as it does in heterosexual relationships.
(Adapted from “Waves of Change” Bystander Intervention Training, Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre & Sexual Assault Services Association)